Speaking Good Japanese vs. Speaking Natural Japanese

Study more, speak more and your Japanese will sound better. That’s the logical assumption anyone would make. Beginners sound like crap, intermediate learners sound… less like crap, and advanced and up learners sound good. Everything in between is working towards good. Life is simple.

Speaking Good Japanese Vs. Speaking Natural Japanese 1

This would make sense except for the following phenomenon.

There are beginners who sound natural, but whose ability is bad, and there are advanced learners whose ability is good and who sound unnatural. You want to be the former, because it is much easier to increase your ability as a beginner, than your way of speaking as an advanced learner.

The divide is caused by the frequency of the following:

Speaking Good Japanese Vs. Speaking Natural Japanese 2

– Immersion listening (passive and active)
– Shadowing
– Mimicking

(Note: it is not necessarily about the amount of conversations you have)

The more you engage in these 3 from the beginning, the more likely your Japanese will sound Japanese regardless of your level.

Sounds easy?

It should be. But you’d be surprised that a lot of people don’t make the effort and focus too much on the “textbook study” aspect of learning Japanese and not enough on the “real” aspect of Japanese. Don’t be the person who passes JLPT N1 and still sounds like a first year student. Be the person who is a first year student who could pass for fluent if they are discussing a fairly simple topic.



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Adam

Adam

Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese. On a quest to become 日本語王 (king of the Japanese language).

Comments

Speaking Good Japanese vs. Speaking Natural Japanese — 13 Comments

  1. I think I am the beginner who sounds natural but is low level. I sound very natural but my pitch can use some work as stated by 2 Japanese people, my tutor and my friend.

    • Great to hear. Caring about pronunciation and sounding natural right from the beginning can only bring good things.

  2. I think I am probably one of the people who sounds natural, mainly because I am comfortable with the Japanese accent and pitches…only if you listen to me for just a minute. However, after a minute when 自己紹介 and small talk is out of the way…that’s when my inexperience really shows.

    • 自己紹介マスターマナン~!

      Everyone does get worse the longer a conversation goes, because once things start to trip you up, it knocks your speech out of it’s natural flow, causing mistakes and unnatural things to pop up.

  3. 100% agree with more immersion = more natural-sounding speech.

    I took an introductory Japanese class at my university last term. I’d been studying (on-and-off, with many breaks) for almost a year before that, so I had been immersing for a while. A couple of weeks into the term, I had to miss class one day so I stayed afterwards to ask the professor if there was any new material. She brought up that day’s vocabulary list on her computer and had me repeat the new words after her. To my surprise, after we were done she complimented me on my pronunciation. “You sound like a native Japanese speaker!” Of course I was, and still am, a beginner – I don’t think I’d ever spoken a word of Japanese aloud before I took that class. (And incidentally, I don’t think my pronunciation is particularly good – I think she was just pleasantly surprised because I was the only person in that class not from East Asia who didn’t have an American accent).

    Moral of the story? Even if you’re not trying to actively improve your speaking ability, immersion makes a difference.

    • And that’s a good moral.

      Japanese teachers are usually impressed by learners who use immersion because there is a major noticeable difference by those that use it, and those that don’t.

  4. In addition to the three things that Adam mentioned, which will help you pick native Japanese phrases in place of translated from English phrases, everyone should read the book 13 Secrets for Speaking Fluent Japanese by Giles Murray. It goes over a lot of tips that help you Japanese sound fluid even at very low levels of skill.

    Also never underestimate the importance of listening ability! Part of being able to speak naturally is to actually respond to the question that was asked and not the question you thought you heard! Overall it is better to confirm you’ve understood what was being asked than it is to give an answer that doesn’t fit the conversation. (This becomes an especially important when you are dealing with important things like contracts, government services, and long-term relationships.)

    Finally, occasionally native speakers will feed you back corrections by repeating part of what you said in a slightly more natural way or correcting particle usage. Always repeat these corrections back verbatim! This provides two very excellent results. First, you acknowledge that their correction is in fact what you intended to say and second you get some practice actually producing the correct Japanese. I see far too many people here, generally guys do this the most, that ignore these corrections completely so be sure and take advantage of them!

    • Excellent tips to add to my tiny 3 point list.

      And I’ll second the 13 secrets book, as I read it many years ago, and it had some excellent info inside.

  5. To me, another important part of natural-sounding Japanese is the rolling R. If you ever plan to become a Yakuza or a lecherous drunk, it’s vital you be able to incorporate the rolling R into your regular (and slurred) speech.

    I learned to do it by watching IWGP and Tiger & Dragon multiple times and singing along to their opening themes. A lot. Like, constantly. For days on end. Months, even. I didn’t end up liking SADS much aside from that one song, but Crazy Ken Band is a national treasure. Not only is their music great, but the more you listen to it the more handsome you become!

  6. “Don’t be the person who passes JLPT N1 and still sounds like a first year student”. Those words hurts only so much as they are true to me xD Up until now I have mostly been focused on learning vocabulary and kanjis because -let’s be honest- I was too lazy to practice shadowing and such and it gave me the feeling that I was improving. Now I have passed the JLPT N1 but I’m still unable to have a smooth conversation… Shame on me (≧∇≦)b

    • But you have a huge plus. You are self-aware of your weakness and can now go forward to make your speaking shine. Just make sure you don’t fall into the trap of “it’s too late” or “well my other skills are fine so no need to worry about it.”

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